Manhattan Makeovers Blog for Attorneys, Businesspeople, and Artists

E.E. “Doc” Smith – Artist Wardrobe

E.E. "Doc" Smith in a plaid shirt

Fig. 1. E.E. “Doc” Smith in a plaid shirt

E. E. “Doc” Smith is one of my favorite science fiction writers. I began indulging in the thought-provoking pleasures of reading his books in high school when I noticed one of my classmates hiding Children of the Lens inside a history textbook. He was reading it in class. This author must be good, I thought! O how right I was! Once I dipped into Triplanetary — the first in the Lensman series — I was hooked.

Smith was a terribly intellectual guy, with a Ph.D. in chemistry. He also happened to be an expert in—of all things—donuts and wheat-based foods. Whether he consumed a lot of wheat (which can influence the mind like a narcotic, according to William Davis, M.D.) is unknown. But what I’d like to talk about today is a topic that has been neglected in the review of the man and his work, namely, the wardrobe he affected.

It is my contention, which I intend to prove in the next few paragraphs, that Smith was hampered in his career by the way he dressed, and that if he had chosen his attire and hairstyle with more care he might have made a bigger splash in the literary world.

The first book series he tackled was the Skylark quartet. One of the most exciting incidents in the initial book, The Skylark of Space, occurs when Marc DuQuesne kidnaps the beautiful Dorothy Vaneman and accidentally blasts off at faster-than-light speed in a rocket whose propulsion system was designed by his rival, Dick Seaton.

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Fig. 2. Smith in plaid shirt

Smith was good at writing about space travel and machines. Less sure of himself when it came to human interactions, especially love scenes, he didn’t even include any in the book. In fact, after the manuscript was rejected by numerous publishers, he turned to his neighbor, Mrs. Lee Hawkins Garby. “Can you help me by writing some boy-girl scenes for the book?” he asked. Before long she had done so, and he inserted the material where necessary and sent the book out again. The manuscript was still rejected.

For some time it languished on the shelf in Smith’s office. Then one day he went for a walk to pick up a newspaper. On the newsstand was a new pulp magazine with a fantastic looking cover featuring UFOs and aliens. Emblazoned across the cover was the title Amazing Stories. Not one to pass up an opportunity, Smith promptly sent out the manuscript to the magazine’s editor and it was accepted at once. It appeared in the magazine in 1928. The rest, as they say, is history.

The readers ate up Smith’s words and demanded more. Who was this scientific prodigy with the imagination of a Dumas? Where had he come from? What was he writing next? They clamored for more, and Smith was urged by his editor to produce more of the same.

Happy to comply, Smith got to work on a sequel, Skylark Three, followed shortly thereafter by Skylark of Valeron and Skylark DuQuesne. The author of the first book was listed as Smith and Garby. But in the sequels, Smith wrote the love scenes himself. Most people say he did a pretty good job at it, too. I guess he learned a few things about romance writing from Mrs. Garby. In fact, there is actually quite a bit of romance in Smith’s later books, especially in the Lensman series and in the standalone novel Spacehounds of IPC.

SMITH’S PLAID SHIRTS

In these early days, Smith was not particulary concerned about his wardrobe. He can be seen in various photos from this time wearing plaid shirts (Fig. 1 and 2). In these shirts Smith looks more like a plumber than a Ph.D. In one photograph (Fig. 1.) his wife is sitting in the background, while Smith talks with some friends. Even his wife was unable to get her husband to change his ways. Either she didn’t see the risk of dressing like a failure, or she didn’t know better. Evidently she had no effect on the man, for he continued with this ineffective garb for many years.

Not long after this, Smith can be seen wearing his favorite style, a plaid shirt, underneath the conservative pinstripe jacket of a suit (Fig. 2). His shirt is open at the neck and the collar is spread in a gauche manner over the lapels of the jacket. Instead of a scientist and successful author, he looks like a homeless loafer. The saddest part of this story is that the look on Smith’s face is one of wry humor, as if he is proud of himself and the look he is sporting. But how could a man be proud of such a wardrobe mistake? There is only one way this is possible, and that is if the man has no idea he is making himself look ridiculous.

As he got older, Smith would sometimes wear a white shirt and a tie with dark suits in an attempt to look more businesslike and professional. But even in doing this he made serious wardrobe errors. His ties were never conservative and appropriate, instead they displayed bizarre patterns, not unlike huge slices of macaroni and cheese on toast. The look is totally appalling.

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Fig. 3. Smith in traditional suit.

Eventually the world started to begrudgingly take notice of Smith. Not for his sartorial splendor, but for his novels. He slowly developed a reputation in the science fiction community and he found himself being invited to book conventions and speaking engagements. At these affairs he often reverted to his plaid shirt, or worse. In one of the conventions he can be seen wearing a plasticine jacket and a bomber helmet with goggles. His eyeglasses are nowhere to be seen and the seriously myopic Smith looks blind. In his hand is a ray gun, connected by a wire to a power pack on his belt.

Yes, it’s true that Smith was only playing by wearing this costume. But by comparison other people at the convention look totally normal. A man in a plaid shirt behind Smith looks like he’s from the planet Earth, whereas Smith, by comparison, looks like he’s a visitor from another world. Another man behind Smith is dressed in a dark, conservative suit. It’s no exaggeration to say that Smith probably made a fool of himself at this convention.

Was there any need for him to dress up like a clown and make people laugh at him? None whatsoever. Not only were people laughing at him at the time, they’re still scratching their heads and wondering why he did such silly things that actually hurt more than helped his reputation.

SMITH’S WARDROBE

Smith’s poor wardrobe choices certainly hurt him as an artist. It is clear that he never developed a look at was all his own. Even the plaid shirts were not worn with consistency, and mixing them with suits on occasion only served to make him look like a man from the wrong side of the tracks.

In later years he calmed down a bit and started to try to look serious with his dark suits, but even that did not work. Not only did he wear the wrong kinds of ties, he also discarded this conservative look and appeared garbed as a space man at conventions, complete with fighter cap, goggles, and ray gun. You can see him as C.L. Moore’s interplanetary ace, Northwest Smith, at Worldcon 1962 (Fig. 4).

Even if a reporter happened to like Smith and his work, there was no consistent message that one could see being delivered to the media the way, for instance, Tom Wolfe or Truman Capote delivered a consistent image of themselves to the press by wearing an outfit that was distinctly theirs. Smith’s lumberjack shirts did not say “Smith” the way Wolfe’s white suits said “Tom Wolfe” because Smith did not wear the shirts consistently. And, of course, mixing them with conservative suit jackets did nothing to help his cause.

HOW AN IMAGE CONSULTANT COULD HAVE HELPED SMITH

Doc Smith as C.I. Moore's interplanetary hotshot, Northwest Smith, at Worldcon 1962.

Fig. 4. Smith as C.L. Moore’s interplanetary hotshot, Northwest Smith, at Worldcon 1962.

There is no question that Smith could have been well served by the help an image consultant could have provided. If only to tell him to straighten out his act with those shirts, it would have been a good thing for his career. Someone had to tell him, but his wife wasn’t up to the job. Nor did his friends or editors have the savvy — or the nerve —  to speak to the madcap author about his careless attire. As a result, the man went around, as if in a daze, trying first one bizarre look, then another. By the time he had reached his late 60s and early 70s his mind was so focused on the task of being casual and silly that he seemed to give up thinking rationally about his appearance. He traipsed around town in the plasticine spaceman outfit, and things went steadily downhill from there.

An image consultant would have started with his wardrobe. This would naturally be the obvious place to begin to make improvements for the man. As a writer, you want to define yourself in two ways. First, you need to remove any hint of the ludicrous or ridiculous from your image. This means the plaid shirt would have had to go. Then you want to make sure your client never appears dressed as a spaceman, unless he is being paid a huge sum of money to do so. It’s tantamount to showing up in a Mickey Mouse costume, for heaven’s sake! Smith wasn’t compensated for wearing the funny outfit, and his image consultant should have warned him to stay away from such childish games.

Smith wearing loose necktie

Fig. 5. Smith wearing loose necktie

It is easy to see how an image consultant could also have helped him with his hairstyle. The man slicked his hair back with pomade and made it look like he had just emerged from a wind tunnel (Fig. 3). This is the look of a businessman, such as George Steinbrenner, not the look of a creative genius. One suggestion, among many possibilities, that Smith could have tried would have been to brush his hair straight back — and up, in the style of Wilhelm Reich. As it is, Smith had more the appearance of the banker rather than the creative artist (Fig. 4).

Another problem that Smith suffered from, and one that plagues many creative people who can’t afford to hire an image consultant, was the issue of the improperly tied necktie. You can see that he often wore a tie, but he rarely tied it correctly. It was either too loose at the neck (Fig. 5) or too gaudy (Fig. 3). A man’s number one status symbol is his tie, and to let it become loose at the neck is a sign of haste and thoughtlessness. We’re not talking about the loosened tie, the tie that is purposefully loosened to give the air of nonchalance so popular with the younger crowd. Instead, we’re talking about a tie that the wearer attempted to tie but failed to get tight up to the neck. This should always be checked in a mirror before leaving the house in the morning, and then once again when you arrive at the office. You might even want to carry around a small mirror so you can check this detail just before meeting someone for an interview.

You may wonder whether Smith even knew what he was missing. Yes, he achieved a measure of success in the science-fiction community, but like H.G. Wells he could have gone on to be considered a mainstream writer — if only he had made more connections with influential critics and with the newspaper reviewers who could have helped propel his books to the forefront instead of the the backlist.

Lawyer Shoes

I just read a fantastic article and wanted to share it here. It’s all about lawyer shoes.

It seems that there is an attorney in Florida, Michael Robb, who wears an old pair of black shoes whenever he has to try a case. His shoes are unpolished and look to be the wrong size. More than that, he typically stands at sidebar with one foot raised off the floor so that jurors can get a good look at the soles of his shoes, which have holes in them!

Why does he do this?

lawyer shoes with holes

Fig. 1. Lawyer shoes

Aren’t lawyers supposed to look sharp? Don’t clients and colleagues rank them higher in the overall scheme of things if they wear natty pinstripe suits and polished shoes?

You would think so.

But in this case, the lawyer had a reason. At least that is what his opponent alleged in a lawsuit against this man! Yes, this guy was sued by his opponent who claimed that the lawyer wore the musty old shoes with the holes in the soles for the express purpose of getting the jurors to sympathize with him. In a “Motion to Compel Defense Counsel To Wear Appropriate Shoes,” the plaintiff claimed that Robb was trying to gain an unfair advantage over him by appearing to be poor, so poor that he could not afford to polish his shoes or repair the soles.

Lawyers will get a kick out of this. The complaint alleges, in part, that “It is well known in the legal community that Michael Robb, Esquire, wears shoes with holes in the soles when he is in trial.” It goes on to state, “Upon reasonable belief, Plaintiff believes that Mr. Robb wears these shoes as a ruse to impress the jury and make them believe that Mr. Robb is humble and simple without sophistication.”

The plaintiff further states, “Part of this strategy is to present Mr. Robb and his client as modest individuals who are so frugal that Mr. Robb has to wear shoes with holes in the soles. Mr. Robb is known to stand at sidebar with one foot crossed casually beside the other so that the holes in his shoes are readily apparent to the jury.

Adlai Stevenson with a hole in his shoe

Fig. 2. Adlai Stevenson with a hole in his shoe

“Then, during argument and throughout the case Mr. Robb throws out statements like, ‘I’m just a simple lawyer,’ with the obvious suggestion that Plaintiff’s counsel and the Plaintiff are not as sincere and down to earth as Mr. Robb.”

Seeking relief, the plaintiff begged the court to compel Mr. Robb to change his shoes! “Mr. Robb should be required to wear shoes without holes in the soles at trial to avoid the unfair prejudice suggested by this conduct.”

The judge, Circuit Judge Donald Hafele, denied the motion. Plaintiff’s lawyer, Bill Bone, then offered to buy Robb a new pair of shoes.

Robb refused the offer.

“I’ve been practicing law for twenty-one years,” he said, “and Mr. Bone thinks he’s finally cracked the key to my success?” He laughed at the idea, sarcastically comparing himself to Michael Jordan. He said he was going to stop using the shoes in court, but that plaintiff’s motion convinced him to keep using them.

Upon doing a little research it turns out that this is not the first instance of an attorney or a politician using this tactic. Adlai Stevenson was notorious for wearing shoes with holes in them (Fig. 2). Even President Obama has been photographed with holes in the soles of his shoes.

All this goes to show that you have to be careful when you’re a political or image consultant. You can’t just assume that looking good, or new, or spiffy, will translate into success. You need to dig a little deeper and think a little harder than the next guy.

This is precisely what we do at Manhattan Makeovers. We take nothing on face value. We look beneath the surface and sometimes recommend that attorneys and witnesses wear something that may not be perfectly new or neat.

The next time you’re wondering what to wear to court, or to a political convention, give us a call and we’ll be glad to share some of our other findings about what is effective for the professional.

 

Red Dress: The Look of Failure

We hired a forty-five-year-old woman to help us determine the effectiveness of the red dress. The test involved having her shop in Macy’s and Lord & Taylor in New York. First she wore the red dress and we interviewed people and asked them what they thought was her income, her profession, and whether she was someone they would hire to work for their company.

At the conclusion of this experiment, we put the woman in a white dress and repeated the questions with a second set of interviewees.

red dressThe results were startling and totally unexpected. We actually expected the red dress to receive the more favorable response. Many women told us that they thought the red dress would get a better response because “red is a sexy color.” But the red dress was the clear loser in this contest.

When people saw the woman in red, they almost always rated her income as lower than the same woman in the white dress. Sixteen percent said she was homeless when she wore the white dress.

The red dress also made people think she was employed in more menial occupations, such as housecleaner, waitress, store clerk, and even “unemployed.” By contrast, when she wore the white dress the woman was thought to be a doctor, an accountant, a nurse, and a writer.

Only 22 percent of people said they would hire the woman when she wore the red dress, while 65 percent said they would hire her when she wore the white dress — a difference of 43 percent.

Balzac in Dominican robe

Balzac in Dominican robe

The fact that a red dress tests poorly for business does not mean that all red dresses are ineffective for all people at all times. There are occasions — such as a party or a theatrical performance — when a red dress will work just fine.

Keep in mind, also, that Balzac, the great French novelist, wore a Dominican robe when he worked. His robe was white and he wore it because it made him feel comfortable and did not distract him from the task of putting words on paper.

The example of Balzac is instructive because it reminds us not to take the statistical results of our survey to mean that all uses of a particular garment (in this case, the red dress) are incorrect or ineffective. There may be times when a red dress, which tests poorly for business use, can be effective, especially if the garment is comfortable and allows the wearer to feel relaxed.

In Balzac’s case, the use of the Dominican robe allowed him to free his mind from the distractions of the world around him and create a totally new world peopled by the denizens of his imagination.

The point has been made, however, and we think quite conclusively, that in the professional arena a red dress marks a woman as a failure.

 

 

Ruffled Shirts for Male Guitarists

Prince in ruffled shirt

Prince in a ruffled shirt

A question often posed to us by rock musicians is, “What should I wear to be most successful onstage?” The answer to this question comes in two parts. First, we need to look at what a normal businessman or professionals wears. Second, we need to look at how the artist can riff on that look, or alter it to suit his needs.

The average businessman or professional wears a shirt and tie, and a suit. But there is no way an artist can wear this conservative garb and still maintain his artistic cachet. True, Jeff Koons and Yukio Mishima both like to wear suits. Mishima is actually dead, having committed traditional Japanese harakiri in 1970. But while alive he often wore a suit and looked like a banker rather than a novelist.

The male guitar player who wears a suit would look like a throwback to the 1960s, when bands like the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, and Herman’s Hermits wore suits, especially on television appearances. Instead, rock musicians tend to vary the traditional look in one or more ways. Here we will examine how the use of a nonstandard shirt can add to the success of a male rock guitarist’s wardrobe.

The look of a ruffled shirt for male guitarists is one of the most sophisticated choices for a band member today. This is hard to understand unless you look beyond the obvious. The obvious reaction to the ruffled shirt is that it is a feminine touch and out of character for a male guitar player, especially one who wishes to present a macho image.

But the truth is that the subconscious of the audience, especially the girls in the audience, needs to be taken into account if we are to understand the significance of the ruffled shirt and its peculiar effectiveness for the male guitarist today.

romance book cover

Romance cover featuring ruffled shirt

At first I found it hard to understand the effectiveness of this style. But all you have to do is look at romance novels and you’ll see that many of them feature a hero who looks like a pirate, with long hair and a ruffled shirt! (See image.) It turns out that ruffled shirts are exciting to 40 percent of female readers, and the same response can be expected to occur when a male guitarist appears onstage in a shirt that has a ruffled front, neckline, or cuffs.

In the image above, Prince’s shirt has both a ruffled front and ruffled cuffs.

A male guitarist who wears such a shirt is sure to excite the members of the audience, both men and women. The shirt has a certain androgynous quality, and more importantly it harkens back to the days of the buccaneers, causing young women to spin unconscious fantasies of being carried away on a pirate ship and being ravished by a band of cutthroats.

This is the kind of unusual and unexpected research that Manhattan Makeovers discovers and presents to clients. We made this particular discovery about ruffled shirts as a result of requests from male guitarists, and we presented it to them. They tried the look and found it to be effective. We also interviewed members of the audience and discovered that this style is significantly more effective, as a general rule, than a plain white shirt for a member of a rock band.

Leather Jackets for Women

leather jacket

Hell’s Angels Jacket

Leather jackets have tested negatively in our surveys for business and professional use. This simply means that wearing a leather jacket is not going to help you if you’re an attorney, banker, or doctor. However, there is a significant exception for artists, as well as for social situations.

Before we get to the times when you can and should wear a leather jacket, let’s discuss two other leather issues: color and style. The only two colors that have tested well for leather are black and brown. This applies to belts, shoes, boots, and the like, not to jackets. Black leather jackets test poorly for all business uses. The reasons can be understood if we look at the history of leather jackets in America.

In 1966 Hunter S. Thompson published Hells’ Angels, a gonzo journalism report on the notorious motorcycle gang. The book also introduced a style of writing that Tom Wolfe calls New Journalism. Aside from the significant literary merits of the book, it focused the spotlight on a feared and dangerous group of people. The associations of the Hell’s Angels with black leather jackets goes a long way toward explaining why the black leather jacket is replete with negative connotations in the business and professional world and should never be worn if you wish to be taken seriously.

However, that very negativity is precisely what makes the leather jacket so effective for artists and for use on social occasions. Women, especially, can use the harsh masculine ideas associated with this style of jacket to their advantage. Especially if a jacket has visible metallic zippers or buttons, it will add cachet and excitement to an artist’s wardrobe or even to a professional’s weekend wear.

You will want to use discretion when wearing the leather jacket for social occasions. Keep in mind that it still makes some people defensive. For example, you would not want to wear it to a golf course if you are an attorney and are going to meet potential clients. If you’re a doctor, you would not want to wear it to a dinner date with the director of the new drug treatment facility that you were hoping to be hired by. Instead, wear more formal but weekend attire to those types of events and when meeting with those types of people.

But for a casual outing with your friends or a trip to the amusement park on a fall night, a leather jacket can give you the pizzazz and style that says you’re with the in crowd and that you’re living life to the max.